Media, Technology, and Education

Wii Fit

We recently bought Wii Fit and have been spending a fair amount of time exploring all it has to offer. There are many things that the game does well and a few things that could be improved (without much effort, it seems to me, which makes me really wonder why these things were not part of the original design).

For those who haven’t heard any of the hype about this new game for the Wii, I’ll give you a summary. The game comes with a new input device called a balance board. The balance board looks something like a scale without the numbers (and it does indeed function as a scale). The game is comprised of sub-games in four categories: yoga, strength training, aerobics and balance games. In addition, there’s a possibility to do a body test once a day. The body test gives you a Wii Fit Age which is similar to the Wii Fitness Age from Wii Sports. When you first register your Mii in Wii Fit, you have to go through the body test, which includes weighing and calculating your Body Mass Index in addition to a balance test. Depending on who you’re playing with and how you feel about others knowing your weight (and BMI), this process can be a little awkward. The first balance test that you do involves shifting your weight from left to right and trying to hold steady at a particular spot. The amount of weight placed on each leg is represented by a blue line that moves up and down as the weight on that leg changes. The test presents you with 5 pairs of red lines into which you try to move your blue lines and hold there for 3 seconds. You have 30 seconds to complete the 5 sub-tests. Once the 30 seconds has elapsed, your Wii Fit Age is calculated based on your real age, your BMI and how well you did on the balance test. As I’ve confessed in these postings in the past, I’m a sucker for this kind of random testing of how “good” I am, especially if I do well. So you can imagine that I was quite happy that my Wii Fit Age was 38 the first time I went through the process.

Once your Mii is completely registered, you’re ready to start getting fit, that is, playing the sub-games. There are too many sub-games to list here but I do have a few favorites. I enjoy many of the balance games. The first one I like is a soccer-based game. As a player, you stand on the balance board and see the back of your Mii’s head. As you shift your weight on the board to the left and to the right, you see your Mii’s head lean to that direction. Other Miis then line up to kick soccer balls at your Mii. The goal is to lean in the correct direction (left, right or middle) so that your Mii heads the ball. When the game starts, this is quite easy. It gets difficult, however, when the Miis begin to kick shoes and panda heads (of all things) at you. You need to avoid these because they smack you in the face and cause you to lose points. The smack is quite funny, accompanied by an appropriate sound effect and the visual of your Mii’s head snapping backward. The first time I played the game, I had no idea about the panda heads and because they look like soccer balls (round, black and white) until they get close to you and because I also thought that I had to lean my weight forward in order to head the ball, I did horribly (I got 20 points–to put that into context, Evelyn got over 100 the first time she played). It turns out that you don’t have to lean forward to head the ball. Instead, you just have to get your Mii’s head in the correct position. Now that I’ve figured out the game, it is quite fun. It’s also hilarious to watch other people play it.

Another of the balance games that I really like is a slalom skiing game. You lean forward to get more speed as your Mii moves down a hill and back to slow the Mii down. You lean left and right to move through the gates. It’s a simple game that is quite addicting because I keep thinking, “I can do better than that.” There’s also a ski jumping game that is addicting. In this game, you lean forward to get your Mii to move down a ski jump. At the end, you extend your knees quickly and try to keep your balance as your Mii flies through the air. The funny thing about this game is that if you miss the jump, your Mii tumbles down the hill head over heels becoming a larger and larger snowball. This is another game in which I keep thinking, “I can do better than that.”

Like I said, there are a ton of other games, some of which I’m sure I’ll talk about in future posts. An interesting question is whether the Wii Fit will actually keep anyone fit (or get them fit if they aren’t already). I think the good thing about the game is that it gets people up and moving, perhaps doing things that they wouldn’t otherwise do. The rewards (seeing your name move up the record holders list, unlocking additional levels and new games) are exactly the kinds of incentives that keep people motivated to continue to do these things (saying to themselves over and over, “I can do better than that.”) And eventually, as you unlock levels, some of the aerobics games can definitely get you sweating and breathing hard (try the hula hoop game at the duration level which is 6 minutes). The strength training games that I’ve tried are pretty difficult. But one major deficiency in the game is the inability to create a training program. You can’t string the sub-games together to automatically do one after the other. Instead, you have to stop in between each game, perhaps listen to an explanation, get your reward, and then select the next game. This lack severely limits the game as a serious fitness tool. Adding such a feature seems like it would be relatively easy to do so I’m surprised it’s missing. But even if this particular game doesn’t get me to be fit, it’s a reminder that I need to get up and move every day and that’s a good thing.

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I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.

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